We’ve all been told to keep close tabs on our bank statements and cut up old credit cards to avoid identity fraud. But medical identity theft can cost you more than money, it can cost you your life. If someone assumes your identity –usually by tapping into your health insurance- to fill prescriptions, visit doctors or undergo procedures, you end up with the bill. If the criminal seeks enough care, your benefits can be completely exhausted, resulting in losing your coverage or making you ineligible for life insurance. Even more fatalistic, it can permanently alter your medical history prompting a doctor to issue the wrong care in an emergency situation.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 3% of all identity theft cases are medical fraud. That’s 250,000 medical identity theft cases each year, amounting to what the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates at $51 billion dollar loss annually. “Think about it in terms of desperate people taking desperate measures,” says Mitic. “It’s not for quick money. In medical identity theft these people are in a very desperate situations.”According to the National Coalition on Health Care, nearly 47 million Americans currently lack health insurance. That’s a lot of people with a potential incentive to assume your medical identity. “Someone starts to impersonate you over time,” says Scott Mitic, CEO of Trusted ID, an identity theft protection service. “And finally the person gets open heart surgery and guess where the bill goes? Straight to you.”
Because health care providers are transitioning to electronic patient files, it might become even harder to recover from medical identity theft. “Electronic medical records are insecure by their very nature. Very private data on hundreds of thousands of individuals can sit in a tiny computer and be carried anywhere by car, train, plane, boat or on foot,” says Twila Brase, president of the Citizen’s Council on Health Care, a non-profit based in Minnesota. “And with one click of a mouse, that data can be sent to China or Africa or Timbuktu. And once it's gone, it's gone. There's no retrieving it.”